This past week in the Travis County courthouse, Judge Maya Guerra Gamble achieved a feat that seemed impossible. Presiding over Alex Jones’s first trial to determine the damages he owes to families of Sandy Hook victims, Gamble repeatedly told the media personality, infamous (and on trial) for being recklessly vocal, to “stop talking” out of turn—and Jones, who had vowed on his show that having him in her courtroom would be Gamble’s “Waterloo,” dutifully complied.
On Tuesday, during his first day of testimony, Judge Gamble reminded Jones that he had been briefed by his attorney not to talk about several things he had mentioned on the witness stand, including his false claims that “we’re bankrupt” and that he complied with the discovery process. After Jones had spent time on the stand talking about his theories on the “official story” of other events such as the Boston Marathon bombing and the Pulse nightclub shooting, Gamble instructed him that he was not hosting Infowars when he was inside her courtroom. She ordered him to stop lying under oath and trying to “take opportunities to further the views you want to further.”
When he took the stand on Wednesday, Jones was uncharacteristically calm. His nerves would rise again, as his cross-examination put on display the things he had said on his show about the judge, forcing him to be accountable for his rhetoric in a setting where hyperbole was not allowed. Plaintiff’s attorney Mark Bankston presented the jury with a photo that the Infowars website published earlier in the week, depicting an image of Judge Gamble’s face superimposed over an image of Lady Justice on fire, and he played a clip in which Jones insinuated that she was, perhaps, involved in child trafficking. Outside of court, Jones and other Infowars hosts have made clear their dislike of the judge, but inside this Travis County court, there is no mistaking that she is running this show.
Throughout the past two weeks, Gamble has had an effortless and unwavering command over a courtroom full of self-assured men with sizable egos. The powerful personalities competing with one another become almost docile whenever she is present. Even Jones knows he must slow down his rapid-fire, free-associating delivery before he speaks in front of her. Gamble, a Yale Law School graduate and a former clerk for the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, set the standard on the first day, telling the attorneys not to “make a mess,” in a disciplining tone that one might use with children.
It’s no surprise to find, then, that Gamble, an Austin native, was a longtime trial lawyer specializing in child protective services before being elected judge for the 459th Civil District Court in 2018. As an attorney, she used her voice to speak for those who are often spoken over—and, once she ran for judge, she prioritized “protecting the most vulnerable” in her campaign.
Throughout the Jones trial, Gamble has bluntly indicated a low tolerance for being interrupted, with her countless uses of the phrase “I’m not done.” She maintains a neutral expression almost unfailingly, which makes her occasional eye roll after comments from the attorneys all the more effective. Not only is she stern with the court, she draws firm boundaries when it comes to media coverage of the Jones proceedings. “If at any time I feel like a performance is being given, or this is being used for some purpose other than the trial,” she said before Jones’s testimony, referring to the multiple television and documentary film cameras in the courtroom, “I will potentially throw out the news media.” And time and time again, she tells anyone caught chewing gum in her courtroom (usually defense attorney F. Andino Reynal) to spit it out, at one point reminding everyone in attendance that the court is a unique place of formality, in the way individuals must dress, speak, and act. She has a sign posted on the door reminding all who enter to remove their hats and not to wear shorts.
But Judge Gamble’s hold over the court can be seen most clearly when she’s absent. Chaos is almost guaranteed to descend in the moments after she dismisses the court. Last Wednesday, Bankston and Reynal almost came to blows after Gamble gaveled the day’s events to a close following her warning to Jones’s attorney that he should stop referring in a snarky way to the plaintiff’s attorneys as “the personal injury lawyers.”
At the end of Tuesday’s hearing, Jones approached plaintiffs Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin—the parents of six-year-old Jesse Lewis, murdered at Sandy Hook—to shake their hands and attempt to apologize for “let[ting their] son down.” At first, it looked like a surprising scene of calm reconciliation as the unfailingly polite plaintiffs graciously appeared to accept the apology. But then a plaintiff’s attorney, Wesley Ball, stepped in to separate Jones from the parents, saying “that’s not the way this goes,” while Bankston remarked that the Infowars host should consider apologizing for implying on his show that morning that Heslin was on the autism spectrum. “Shut your mouth,” Bankston told Jones, who shot back: “That’s what you’re trying to do, shut my mouth. You’ll never succeed.”
Subsequently, outside the courthouse, an incensed Jones raved to a crowd of microphones and cameras, seemingly letting out everything he had been forced to bite his tongue about in Gamble’s presence. “This is tyranny being developed and created here!” he proclaimed, while Reynal stood nearby, having a much-needed smoke.
Throughout the case, the power dynamics in the courtroom have been on display—between attorneys, clients, judges, juries, and outside observers. The lead lawyers have made their personal feuds clear; Reynal has flashed his middle finger at Bankston, and each has accused the other of lying. They’ve exchanged spiteful glances, and each has thrown documents on the other side’s table in a passive-aggressive manner. But when Gamble calls them forward, the attorneys quietly stand shoulder to shoulder gazing up at her; only her commanding presence, it seems, can contain the egos and emotions in this courtroom.
Outside the courtroom, both lead attorneys profess their admiration for the judge. “She’s spectacularly well educated—she’s challenging,” Bankston told me. “She makes us work hard.” Reynal, who might not be the source of Gamble’s frustration with this trial but is often the recipient of it, remains confident but notably careful in her presence. He told Texas Monthly he was impressed with the judge. “This is the first case I’ve ever had before her,” he said. “I hope there will be a second.”
Reynal has the seemingly impossible task of playing mediator between two incredibly strong personalities: a judge who is downright fed up with the defendants after nearly four years of trials that resulted in a default judgment for noncompliance with her orders, and, of course, his frequently unrestrained client. But it’s always Gamble who gets the last word.